Sunday, August 20, 2006


Last August 15, the day after the anniversary of the India-Pakistan partition and on the same day as India's 59th year of independence, Rio Renato turned eight. His sister, Yla Luna, gave him a grand drawing; his parents, his grandparents, his cousins and aunts and his friends -- they all gave him a few choice gifts. To each gift-giver the birthday boy gave in return a bright big smile and a giggling pledge that he will continue to shine for everyone for as long as the sun shines on our radiant world.

He is two years shy of being a decade old and yet already he seems to carry himself the way a man of ripe age would, or should. He asks if he can be excused after he finishes a meal and others are still finishing theirs. Knowing too much of it is bad for his health, he imposes limits on himself regarding the amount of chocolate he can eat and has been known to refuse tempting offers from cousins or uncles or aunts (ice cream is a different matter). He reads voraciously and his vocabulary continues to impress many -- the bulbous end of the stick shift of some cars he refers to as "an orb." When everyone's in the bedroom winding down and a movie on television is showing "parental guidance" on the screen and his parents have stopped watching the TV and have moved to reading books with a nightcap of rum or beer, Rio moves out of the room without being asked -- and when asked "Hey, where're you going?" he embarrasses his parents by smiling and pointing to the screen and saying "Parental guidance -- not for me..."

Rio has been asking the interesting questions. Why is America in Iraq? Why are they occupying Iraq? "Well it seems like this country Israel is imitating America?" the boy says out of the blue. "Well that can't be the land of the free, Tatay," said the boy recently. "America seems to be in a hurry stealing other peoples homes and keeping others in prison," said the eight-year old man. Nice. In a way, if a strong sense of right and wrong is always instilled in the young, sometimes television can demonstrate contradictions without meaning to and thus provoke the right questions. Sometimes.

What about the time when he wondered aloud to his parents, "I don't understand why people can't just power up our homes from the sun. I think we can run cars with sunlight energy. I've been reading about the sun's power -- oh man, its really powerful. I think it's called solar power and if you use it there's no smoke and it's clean. Oh yeah, there's also plenty of it. It's kinda stupid we're not using the sun." Rio's dad being an energy campaigner, and being a dad who has thankfully made an effort to really limit conversations about his campaigns on his family -- he was speechless with joy and eventually stammered out some dumb explanation.

So what has Rio been up to lately? He's taken up taekwondo and has been practicing da moves at home after every session, with plenty of funny stories to share. The other day, he proudly announced that he'd be moving up to yellow belt status.

In recent school-wide intramurals at the Community of Learners, he competed in chess and won over players from his batch and those two grades higher than his. He topped his age group and for his effort was awarded his first-ever gold medal. Rio's happy parents even brought home for him from Hanoi a Vietnamese stone chess set, which of course weighed like a desktop computer...

He had a great birthday bash at school. He and his classmates went a bit wild when the chocolate cake was served, Kala said. Tatay was still in transit from India but arrived in the afternoon, in time for Rio's birthday dinner.

Among other things, which included a few books, Tatay brought home for Rio an intricately-carved wooden baton, which for now is named the Hammer of Truth and which has been said to possess great powers which amplify a hundredfold the kinetic energy of the noble knight wielding the mystical weapon and which allows the warrior to face whole armies, sort of like the great mace that the evil Sauron once wielded, only many, many times more powerful.

And, of course, it's funny when you notice that the great warrior bearing the mystical weapon is also wearing armor that looks like a t-shirt printed with the peace emblem.

Rio noted with some sadness the other day that Samurai Jack will be rolling out farewell episodes shortly on Cartoon Network. The news kind of cast a cloud over an otherwise joyous day. Samurai Jack's been such a longtime friend to Rio, Luna and Tatay that saying goodbye to the great philosopher-swordsman -- the great cross-generational art and story-telling that is the Samurai Jack experience -- just doesn't seem right.

All things have an ending, I suppose. It's a good thing all things have beginnings too. I suspect that this is just the ending of Samurai Jack's chapter 1 and that one day we will still get to see Samurai Jack chapter thirty-two. I think Rio knows this too. We shall say farewell to the series for now while we welcome new things.

What a joy to have so much to share with an eight-year old kid -- and a three-year old daughter whose wings continue to grow, who is becoming more precocious, ambitious and creative with each passing day and who will be four in November.

It's nice to inhabit -- at the same time -- the same dominion of the mind as one's children. Samurai Jack, Calvin and Hobbes, Mr. Bean, Uno Stacko!, the Bamboo Kamatis game from Sze Ping, gallons and gallons of buko juice, the Uncanny X-Men, The Adventures of Tintin, Ludy's peanut butter and Ludy's coco jam sandwiches, cold soya milk, the music of Sugarfree, LOTR over and over, the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, and the countless pitched battles waged with the named and nameless great women and men building and manning fortresses of imagination and defending the colors and peace of the realm against marauding brutes, hungry beasts, imperial overlords, liars and cheats and emperors of dull days and the doldrums.

When things get out of hand, Kala tells us to pipe down and that it's time to turn in, and then, despite a having room of their own, son and daughter and dad and mom compete for the tiny space of a bed big enough just for two people, each of the four griping that someone stole his or her pillow and who's pulling the blanket and move over and that's my space and stop sticking your knee in my ribs and someone starts tickling somebody who tickles someone else and Kala smiles and raises her voice and shushes everyone to sleep. #

Photos by the writer, taken at Omenakasi on Morato, August 15, 2006 -- also the 59th anniversary of India's independence. The second photo where Rio is seen giving his mum a goofy buss on the cheek demonstrates where exactly he got his dimples from.



Anonymous said...



Ben Razon said...

Words only a proud father can speak of a son... great piece Red. :-)

Anna Maria G said...

Truly, the fruit does not fall far from the tree...

and it has dimples, too. :-)

Happy birthday Rio! We are honored to have been your friends since you were a baby.

With love from Anna and Bituin